The word Satra has been in use in the Assamese language since ancient times. The word is also present in the Ambari inscriptions written in ancient prose. But, scholars are not convinced about the exact meaning of that word in the inscription and thus, it cannot be assumed to bear the same meaning of the satra of the Vaishnavism of the last era. In ancient time, this word  means long lasting sacrifices. There are four types of sacrifices, viz Ekaha, Ahina, Satra and Sadyaska. There were numerous sacrifices of one, six, twelve days etc. as well the and some of these were of much longer duration and sometimes were called “Satra Schasram Sattramasta” in the Bhagavata meaning that in the ancient times the Seers carried out their sacrifices for millenniums. The Bhagavata also greatly influenced the naming these place as satra, because during the course of their sacrifices spread across millennium, great Seer Suta son of Vedavayasa was once requested to narrate the story of Lord and this is the root of the beginning of the Bhagavata legend. The Bhagavata was narrated by Suta before the assembled Seers engaged in the millennium long sacrifices at the Naimisaranya. It is not a strong thing to name the place as ‘Sat’ where Bhagavata was narrated for a long period. In the explanation given by Bhattadeva, there is no historical reference. It is only a description of the then situation of the satras. Even then, his description “Yatracaranti saddharman Kevala Bhagavat apriyah”.

According to Sarana Samhita – Satra means – ‘The place where  there is nonstop devotion to the Lord through the nine forms of Bhakti, at all times, is the best Satra for the pure speak well about the historical reason.”

2.Clasification of the Satra

After the death of Sri Sri Sankardeva the Satra were divided into four samhatis viz- Brahma, Nika, Purusha and Kala samhati. Each of the samehatis has serveral satras in different parts as well as in Coach Bihar.

On the basis of celibacy of Satradhikar and Bhakats, Satra can be classified o Monastic, Grihasti, Semi-monastic and Admixture Purely Monastic Satras are Auniati, Dakhinpat, Natun Kamalabari, Uttarkamalabari, Madhya Majuli Kamalabari, Bhugpur, Beloguri, Jarabari, Hati Satra and Jinkata Rajahuwa satra.

3.Satras of Majuli and Contribution to Society

Majuli, the famous river island is the cultural capital of Assam. Historically Majuli is home to the Vaishnavite monasteries since the sixteenth century A.D. In the early sixteenth century A.D. Mahapurush Sankardeva dwelled for 12 yrs at Dhowahat in western part of Majuli, where he met Madhabdev as his disciple. The followers of Sankardeva and Madhavdeva, after  them, came to this place and established satras for preaching the New-Vaishnavite belief, which becomes a part of the Vaishnavite movement of India. Saikia (2012) revealed that these monasteries made Majuli the centre of cultural heritage of Assam and may also be called the cultural heritage of India.

Originally, Majuli was proud of 65 satras but now only 32 of them exist in Majuli. These satras in Majuli have preserved and practise satriya tradition and culture as per their excellence. The satriya life style and cultural heritage, centuries old buildings, art and craft, centuries old utensils of Vaishnavite saint, rituals, sacred religious manuscripts that are preserved in the satras definitely catch the eyes of the outsiders. Moreover, colourful Satriya fairs festivals and serene environment have attracted tourists from any part the globe. Added to these tourists friendly traditions of the inhabitatints of the graceful River Island make Majuli an amazing and ideal site for tourists.

Performing art of the satras of Majuli is a major attraction to the visitors to the river Island, “It was on that day in the year 2000: Sangeet Natak Academy declared Satriya dance tradition of Assam as one of the major dance traditions like Bharat Nrityam, Kathak, Kathakali, odisi, Monipuri etc. The Vaishnavite monasteries since the 17th century A.D. have been serving as repertorie of satriya performing art. Nam Prasang (preyer) and choidhya (fourteen) Prasangas are common daily routine of a satra. Bargeet (the classical song), other devotional songs that have been composed by vaishnavite saints, Satradhikars and Bhakatas, Tithis (death anniversaries) of Mahapurush Sankardeva and Madhabdeva and other vaishnavite saint. Janmastami, Gayan-Bayan (a traditional vaishnavaite religio orchestra), Natua dance, Ojapali, Ankia Nach etc. are common performing arts in satras. Besides of these some special performance of art are preserved, practised and performed from satra to satra. Kamalabari Satra and its branches are reputed as a study centre of classical songs and dance forms Uttar Kamalabari Satra is famous for Gayan-Bayan. Sutra Nass (Sutra dance) and Ankia Bhaona. Similarly, Natun Kamalabari satra is also equallyrenowned for ‘Mati Akhara (ground rehaesal) ‘Ankiya Bhaona, Gayan-Bayan and practices and recitations of classical songs. The satra performs Satriya, cultural programmes in different parts of our nation. Besides, the satra carried the glory by performing Ankiya Nat in Indonesia and other Satriya programmes in overseas countries (Saikia, 2010).

Dakhinpat satra performs “Rajaghariya Chali dance with Khol and Dholak, Which are not found in other Satras. The Apshara Nritya and Indrabhishek Nritya performed to the beating of Dhol (drum) is a unique dance form of the satra. The satra can boast of some specialities. A number of songs composed by the Ahom king Jayadhaj Singha are traditionally practiced in the Garamur Satra. Likewise, Bhogpur Satra possesses the glory of performing “Bhor Taal Nritya (dance with greater cymbals). These are just some example of Majuli which are able to attract the tourist from different of our planet.

Arts and crafts of the satras of Majuli bear the imprint of their religious beliefs and practices and form an integrate part of their culture. They bear a wealth of tradition of wood, cane and bamboo craft. The satra impart training on the art of mask making, specially in Natun Chamoguri Satra, Purana Chamoguri Satra, Bihimpur Satra and Narasingha Satra carried proud to Majuli. Hand made fan of Cane of Kamalabari Satra is well reputed for its artistic skill and high order perfection. Besides these, Dhop (agarbati) and decorated Kuhila mat manufacturing are notable satriya handcraft.

Satras have literary are contribution to Assamese literature. In 1871, Satradhikar Sri Sri Duttadeva Goswami published monthly magazine “Assam Bilasini” from Dharma Prakash Jantra of Auniati Satra. Assam Bilasini was the first Assamese magazine published by Assamese people. Again in 1876, another magazine “Assam Dipika” was published from Dharma Prakash Jantra. Besides these, Satradhikars of Satras in Majuli had composed religious dreams (Bhawna) for the publication of Sanatan Hindu Religion. Satras of Majuli also tries to unify the people of Majuli from ancient time. After all we can conclude that Satras are the back born of Majuli.

4.Socio-Economic Problems
Although several works have already been completed on the Neo-Vaishavism and Satra institution of Majuli, yet a little has been done regarding a number of social and economic problems faced by the satras. Some crucial problems can be enumerated as follows:

4.1Social Problems

i)         Gradual declination of number of Satriyas or Vakats is the main social problem of the satras.
ii)        Spread of Christianity especially among the tribal population is another social problem faced by the satra of Majuli.
iii)    Defacement is another social problem faced by the satras.

4.2Economic problems
Since the last few decades the satras of majuli have been facing economic crisis due to the several reasons. Some of them –
i)         Flood Problem
ii)        Defacement
iii)       Deplorable communication
iv)      Decreasing Amount of revenue (religious tax) from sisyas.

The ecclesiastical order of the satras is instrumental for the development of feudal elements in the society where the principal of equality fails  to work properly. Mahanta (2010) stated that it is for this reason that the people of lower social order refuse to be the sisyas of a satra. Besides the tax, to be paid by sisyas is not bearable for the economically backward people and in that situation while Christianity offers then economic assistance, they naturally show inclination to accept Christanity.

So far the economic problems are concerned flood and erosion stands at first in the economic development of the satras of Majuli. Due to devastating and recurrent flood and erosion the area of satras has been gradually reducing and sometimes. Satras have been over flooded. Gov’t assistance is also miserably poor as to make the satras economically sound. Moreover poor communication system, deplorable condition of roads and transports of Majuli Island are instrumental in the economic degradation of the satra of Majuli. Several satras have been running in name alone and a few have been ahifted to other places.

The very purpose of a Satra, as desired by Sankardeva and his disciples was to bring the people of all castes, creeds and races. Under a common roof for congregation prayer and their Socio-culture and economic up-liftmen Sankardev and his followers succeeded in their mission. Now what we call the Assamese culture can be regarded as the result of the efforts of the Satra institution. So for the economic side is concerned, small scale industry like pottery, blacksmith, bamboo cane to large scale industry like tourism industry may be attributed to the institution of Satra. But at present Several Socio-economic problems have been working the importance of satras day to day.
Satras of Majuli has the great importance in the field of the art, culture and reformation of society. On the basis of satriya culture Majuli is going to the process of declaration of world Heritage side. It has also the great scope of development of tourism industry in Majuli as the revenue earner of Assam’s economy. So everyone should take responsibility to develop satriya culture and save the river island Majuli.

·                D. Saikia (Ed.). Bimrisha. Majuli: Majuli Zone, 2012.
·                P.K. Mahanta (Ed.). Majuli. Jorhat: Grantha Sanskriti, 2010.
·                R.K. Saikia Ed.). Bonamali. Majuli: Dakhinpat Satra Prakashan, 2015.

About the author: Ms. Priyanka Hazarika is the author of the article titled ‘Satra Societry in Majuli –A brief discussion. She is M.A. in Assamese from Guwahati University and presently serving as Assistant Teacher of a School. She published many articles in various Journals, Magazines and Daily Newspapers. She has participated many National Seminars and Workshops. She was born in Majuli and lives in Majuli. So she has special interest concerning Satriya Issues. [ Read More]


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